There are a lot of comments on Sam’s post earlier about China and India, but Gerald Hibbs has some cold water to splash on the Chinese’ problem, that I thought I’d move up to post level:
Right, every inch of China is covered with them growing something. Terraced hillsides are standard. As we whisk by on the train you can see them farming the way their grandparents did. Often you see the cliff dotted with caves. What are those? They live there. It is fascinating to watch and incredibly sad.
Meanwhile, government officials talk about how they are lifting a million people a year out of poverty. A million people a year! That is staggering. Even more so when you realize that they are over 1000 years away from lifting everyone in China out of poverty at that rate.
Kids on the farm on making their way to the city and finding it a hard row to hoe — especially since it is technically illegal to move like that without permission. We watched a documentary that followed one kid. Someone else in the village had gone to the city for a year and came home with enough money to get married and buy a house for his new wife. Off this young man — an only son — went where he worked illegally on a high rise construction project and slept in a worker’s dorm with no heat. He eventually went home because he couldn’t take the bitter winter cold.
We already hear of riots everywhere in China. Well, some details and statistics/conjecture leak out from foreign websites. Chinese government officals admitted to about 74,000 in 2004. Many rural people have television and they watch it filled with commercials for stuff they can’t afford (like pretty much everything as the average peasant makes about $150 a year) and modern TV soaps showing spoiled rich young people fighting over the prettiest girl. At the same time there is such a disparity between boy/girl births — especially in rural areas reaching sometimes 120 boys to 80 girls — that a poor (and heaven forbid stupid or ugly) village boy has little chance of marriage. It is made even worse by the fact that women are now getting into college and excelling. Why worse? Well, those boys are even more out in the cold then they were before. The women in China are going to experience a power shift in this generation like no other in history. I hope they live through it. I’ve seen any number of stories about girls kidnapped and sold as “wives.” My own wife was almost kidnapped off the street when she was younger.
How much longer can the condition continue? Especially when the people see the endless corruption. Guanxi, or relationships, are everything. I know one guy whose group paid a $10,000 bribe to be allowed to exploit an oil well his group owned. Someone else paid more, and had better relationship, and they were forced to sell for almost for pennies on the dollar. Now the people with more money and guanxi are running the oil well and getting richer. He lost much of his family’s life savings in that debacle.
I want to be optimistic but the situation is so inherently unstable. Imagine the gleaming cities of 20 years from now with hundreds upon hundreds of millions of peasants knowing they and their children are shut out. Or even worse know that they will know the shame of being a “branchless tree” (Chinese description of a man without a family.) Interesting times indeed. If anyone can give me a reasonable explanation of how this can end well short of a singularity — and molecular manufacturing to instantly provide economic parity — I’d love to hear it.
Fortunately, some kind of singularity-like event is likely to bail them (and the rest of us) out. Unfortunately, given the history of technological solutions, it will bring new problems of its own. The future is likely to be (in the words of the ancient Chinese curse) interesting times.